Conservatives in media gloated and launched political attacks in reaction to a coalition of largely Senate Republicans blocking a package of stronger gun laws, including compromise legislation on expanded background checks for gun sales -- a legislative proposal supported by roughly 90 percent of Americans.
Before, during, and after President Obama delivered a speech from the Rose Garden on April 17 vowing to continue the dialogue on gun laws, conservatives in media offered triumphal comments and launched vicious attacks on advocates for gun violence prevention, including family members of Newtown victims and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
As Politico noted, conservative bloggers "claimed victory ... saying that their ideology and principles were the keys to their success." The right-wing reaction, however, went beyond basic policy arguments:
In an op-ed for The Washington Times, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro opined that family members of Newtown victims -- many of whom advocated for the passage of stronger gun laws -- did not deserve to be heard because of his apparent belief that background checks infringe on the Second Amendment. Shapiro previously accused Obama of attempting to implement socialism in a piece for The New American, the magazine publication of the far-right John Birch Society. From Shapiro's April 18 op-ed:
I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the greatest tragedies are not a valid reason to disregard the Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States. If they were, our free speech and our rights against unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination would have all been abolished long ago amid every crime wave in American history.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, making it clear that guns in "common use" were constitutionally protected. Nevertheless, President Obama recently flew several family members of Sandy Hook victims to Washington on Air Force One to pressure congressional legislators to enact new gun laws.
From the April 18 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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When confronted with the fact that a majority of the nation's gun owners support expanded background checks for gun purchases, Fox anchor Bret Baier hid behind the National Rifle Association (NRA) to allege that such support does not exist.
The NRA has lobbied aggressively against a bipartisan proposal in the Senate that would have expanded background checks on gun show and online gun purchases. Among other efforts, they spent $500,00 in one day -- the day the Senate voted on the bill -- on ads calling the proposal "Obama's gun ban," according to the New York Times.
The background check proposal failed to pass the Senate, a result Fox contributor Juan Williams lamented on Special Report, stressing how even "gun owners say, 'Yes, it's a good thing' ":
WILLIAMS: It's like a tragedy ... the U.S. Senate can't take action on simple background checks that overwhelmingly the American people, in poll after poll, say that it's a good idea, it would be a good thing. Gun owners say, 'Yes, it's a good thing.' But again, the power of big money, the NRA, and the gun manufacturers has carried the day. So let's look at the record then--
BAIER: Well, hold on. Gun owners overall don't say that. You mentioned the NRA. They say this. (emphasis added)
Baier then read the NRA's statement opposing the Senate bill, which asserts that "[e]xpanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in schools."
Despite Baier's claim, the NRA's view are contrary to that of the majority of gun owners on this issue. In February 2013, the Pew Research Center determined that gun owners overwhelmingly support expanded background checks. Pew found the number to be:
The vast majority of gun owners have repeatedly expressed their approval of more background checks. At the beginning of the year, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 91 percent of gun owners were in support; in March, they found that number to be little changed, with 85 percent of gun owners in favor of universal background checks.
From the April 17 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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From the April 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the April 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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The National Rifle Association is distorting a survey that experts say already uses questionable methodology to claim that the vast majority of police don't believe background checks will reduce violent crime.
The Washington Post's website is currently displaying an NRA ad which states, "80% of police say background checks will have no effect on violent crime."
But the poll in question, conducted by the law enforcement news portal PoliceOne, does not ask respondents whether they believe background checks will have an effect on violent crime. As Slate's William Saletan has noted, the only question in the survey that produced results similar to the ones the NRA cited was the question, "Do you think that a federal law prohibiting private, non-dealer transfers of firearms between individuals would reduce violent crime?" The bipartisan background check amendment currently under discussion in the Senate would not impact private, non-dealer transfers; it would only require background checks for commercial sales.
Moreover, the survey's methodology raises questions about its results. It is not a random sample, but rather a survey completed by the 3 percent of registered current and former law enforcement officers who are members of PoliceOne and chose to respond.
Academic polling experts who Media Matters contacted said this approach is questionable, because the self-selection of respondents can bias the sample. University of Michigan Professor Michael Traugott, for example, told Media Matters that "one issue that would be of particular concern is that the survey was completed by self-selected respondents," which the Public Opinion Quarterly editor said could have skewed the results.
Other experts highlighted that the survey examines only members of PoliceOne. "How representative of all police officers are PoliceOne's members to begin with?" said Columbia University professor Robert Shapiro, a co-author of award-winning books on public opinion research. "And how does the sample compare with all police officers demographically?" Temple University's Christopher Wlezian, another editor at Public Opinion Quarterly, likewise commented that the problem with the survey is "the fact that we don't know whether the sample of respondents is representative of the population of police officers."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed the heroic response to the Boston Marathon bombings "represents" the NRA before attacking the "anti-Americanism" of the Obama administration for allegedly seeking to eliminate the Second Amendment.
Nugent's comments occurred during the April 16 broadcast of NRA News where he described the heroics of people who ran towards the scene of the bombings before claiming "that represents what the NRA is":
NUGENT: Those uniformed heroes of the military charged in with the uniformed heroes of law enforcement, the first responders, the EMTs, and quite relative to my opening statement today, citizens, just people, American citizens knowing that two bombs had gone off, limbs had been blown off of peoples' bodies, massive amounts of blood and terror and trauma. And where did civilians and heroes of professional organizations and law enforcement and military, where did they run? Straight into the danger. That's the America that I pray every day that represents what the NRA is.
Nugent then said that Americans "will charge into the most dangerous times when the top officials in the American government really want to eliminate the Second Amendment" and claimed that "anti-Americanism" exists in the Obama administration:
NUGENT: It's families, it's mom and pop America, working hard playing hard America who understand what makes America special and unique that the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights is the guiding light to the greatest quality of life in the history of the world and we will charge into the most dangerous times when the top officials in the American government really want to eliminate the Second Amendment, when [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] says I would take away all of their guns if I could. She said it on film, Cam.
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Yeah.
NUGENT: Where the Attorney General [Eric Holder] says we need to brainwash people. I know that that kind of anti-Americanism exists, but why can't we communicate with those who we oppose on the gun control issue, on the tax issue, on the court system, on the welfare issue, ad nauseum? Why can't we somehow, and I believe we can if we continue to communicate and turn up our activism heat, why can't we create an America that is united constantly like we're united when terror strikes?
Nugent's use of the heroics of the Boston Marathon bombing as a platform to attack the Obama administration comes a week after he said on NRA News that not enough was done to stop the reelection of President Obama before asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he was "not recommending shooting anybody."
With the Senate poised to take up a bill to strengthen gun laws -- including a provision to expand the background check system to cover Internet sales -- The New York Times has published a report detailing the "unregulated bazaars" of Internet arms sales.
Right-wing media and the National Rifle Association have been fervent opponents of proposals to expand the background check system. The Times report indicates just what they have been supporting - an unregulated marketplace in which, at a single website, more than 20,000 ads are posted each week for guns that can be purchased by felons and those with mental illness without undergoing a background check.
The Times detailed how they contacted Omar Roman-Martinez, a Colorado felon banned from owning guns who nonetheless was posting want ads at the gun sales portal Armslist.com seeking to buy a handgun for $250 cash. The Times explained:
The mere fact that Mr. Roman-Martinez was seeking to buy and sell guns on Armslist underscores why extending background checks to the growing world of online sales has become a centerpiece of new gun legislation being taken up in the Senate this week. With no requirements for background checks on most private transactions, a Times examination found, Armslist and similar sites function as unregulated bazaars, where the essential anonymity of the Internet allows unlicensed sellers to advertise scores of weapons and people legally barred from gun ownership to buy them.
The bipartisan Senate compromise under consideration would require that background checks be conducted through federally licensed dealers on all Internetand gun show sales. Gun control advocates argue that such checks might have prevented shootings like that of Zina Haughton, 42, who was killed in October with two other women by her husband, Radcliffe, even though a restraining order barred him from having guns. Mr. Haughton simply contacted a private seller on Armslist and handed over $500 in a McDonald's parking lot for a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol and three magazines.
Seeking a glimpse into the largely hidden online gun market, The Times assembled a database and analyzed several months of ads from Armslist, which has become the dominant player in the arena, and examined numerous smaller sites.
Over the past three months, The Times identified more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist. Some were for the same guns, making it difficult to calculate just how many guns were actually for sale. Even so, with more than 20,000 ads posted every week, the number is probably in the tens of thousands.
Notably, 94 percent of the ads were posted by ''private parties,'' who, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks.
A 2011 investigation by New York City found that these online sellers are more than willing to sell firearms to those who say they wouldn't be able to pass a background check. But opponents of the background check system are apparently unconcerned about potentially dangerous people getting ahold of firearms.
Although right-wing media have largely claimed that gun violence prevention proposals would have no effect on the incidence of mass shootings, the six-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre highlights how deficient gun laws facilitate the epidemic of gunfire that claims roughly 30,000 American lives each year.
Conservatives in media have suggested that proposals being considered by the Senate to reduce firearm-related violence do not address mass shootings or gun violence generally and even denied that the proposal addresses the mental health issue at all.
However, gun violence prevention legislation under consideration by the Senate would address circumstances that facilitated the Virginia Tech massacre, one of the deadliest school shootings in United States history, which involved the sale of firearms to an individual prohibited by law from owning guns because of a mental health problem.
The Virginia Tech shootings, where 49 individuals were shot in a dormitory and academic building resulting in 32 fatalities, called attention to the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) does not contain complete records of individuals prohibited under federal law from buying a firearm.
Along with felons, fugitives from justice, domestic abusers and other categories of prohibited persons, it is unlawful for an individual with mental health problems who is a danger to themselves or others to purchase a firearm. Roughly 16 months before the Virginia Tech massacre, shooter Seung-Hui Cho had been adjudicated by a judge to be "an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness." This record should have been forwarded to the NICS system and created a disqualifying record for Cho, but instead he was able to obtain firearms after passing background checks on at least two separate occasions.
In 2007, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act to provide funding for states to ensure that disqualifying records were forwarded to NICS. Between 2009 and 2011, however, Congress only appropriated 5.3 percent of the authorized funding to improve NICS. Provisions in both the current Senate gun violence prevention package and the Toomey-Manchin proposal would offer states additional incentives in the form of increased funding and disincentives through funding cuts to submit disqualifying records into NICS.
According to a report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, millions of records are missing from NICS. While the overall number of records submitted to NICS has increased, MAIG found that as of October 31, 2011, "Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the federal database. Seventeen states have submitted fewer than ten mental health records, and four states have not submitted any records."
Fox News continued right-wing media attempts to dismiss the voices of the families of the Newtown, CT shooting victims, discounting their efforts to encourage Congress to pass stronger gun laws by suggesting that President Obama is "engineering them for political purposes" and "outright manipulating them."
Since the December 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which left 26 people dead, family members of the victims have taken an outspoken role in pushing for tougher gun laws.
Following the tragedy, many of the families traveled to Hartford, Connecticut to help push for a tougher new state-level gun law that Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) recently signed into law. After Republican senators threatened to filibuster gun reform legislation, more than 30 families of Newtown victims released a statement criticizing the lawmakers. The families have also been lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to push for new gun measures. The lobbying efforts of these families for stronger gun laws have been ongoing and effective.
This has led to an attempt by right-wing media figures to marginalize the Newtown families as little more than "props" being used by Obama and Democrats to strengthen gun laws. On April 9, Fox News White House reporter Ed Henry said the president "used the victims of the Newtown tragedy to make their case." That same day, Fox News host Mike Huckabee suggested that Obama bringing the families to Washington, DC on Air Force One to allow them to make their case for stronger gun laws was "an exploitation of those parents."
On April 10, Fox News host Sean Hannity accused Obama of "once again using families of tragedy as props for his agenda." On his April 11 radio program, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Obama was "using the Newtown families." On April 12, Rush Limbaugh accused Democrats of using the Newtown parents as "human shields."
Then, during the April 15 edition of America's Newsroom, guest co-host Gregg Jarrett continued the effort to marginalize the Newtown families, saying they are "still very, very emotionally vulnerable" and suggesting the president is "engineering them for political purposes" and is "outright manipulating them into taking a stand on a vital constitutional right." Jarrett also asked if the president is "exploiting this tragedy and the grieving families for political purposes."
Despite these efforts to paint the Newtown families as merely political props being exploited by Democrats and the president, the families have continued to push for stronger gun laws. On April 14, Francine Wheeler, the mother of a 6-year-old killed in the shooting, gave Obama's weekly address, in which she urged the Senate to pass gun reform legislation.
The National Rifle Association has released a new video that attempts to rebut a TV ad calling for stronger gun laws by pushing a false claim about that ad that originated in the right-wing media.
In March, several conservative media outlets including Fox News highlighted Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller's claim that ads released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) to promote expanding the background check system featured a man using unsafe gun handling. In particular, Miller and the right-wing media falsely claimed that the man's finger was on the trigger of the firearm.
The NRA used the same claims to undermine the ad in their own web video released April 15. According to the ad's narrator, "every gun owner watching probably noticed... the finger dangerously close to the trigger." The narrator suggests that this is not "responsible firearms handling."
From the April 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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From the April 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News is trying to shift the national conversation on public safety laws, pointing to recent mass shootings to question the effectiveness of expanding background checks on gun purchases. But Fox's criticism ignores several other mass shootings committed by people who bought weapons without undergoing background checks, as well as the significant gun violence that experts say background checks will prevent.
On Thursday, the Senate defeated a Republican filibuster threat against tougher gun laws on a vote of 68-31. The vote cleared the way for a full debate on gun safety measures, including expanded background checks, next week.
In response, Fox News ran a segment premised on the idea that background checks are largely unnecessary because they would not have prevented Adam Lanza and other recent mass shooters from acquiring the guns they used.
In fact, the loophole in federal law that allows prohibited persons to buy firearms without undergoing a background check has resulted in mass shootings. In October 2012, a shooting at a Wisconsin spa left three dead and four wounded. The Associated Press reported that the alleged shooter purchased a handgun from a private seller without a background check, and obtained the weapon two days after becoming the subject of a restraining order that required him to turn over all weapons to a county sheriff.
Other mass shootings in which shooters obtained their weapons from private individuals rather than licensed firearm dealers include the September 2011 shooting at a Nevada IHOP, which left 4 dead and 7 wounded, and the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, which left 13 dead and 21 wounded.
Moreover, this criticism misses the point; while background checks will not prevent all gun violence, they will prevent a significant amount.